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Not in My Neighborhood: How Bigotry Shaped a Great American City Hardcover – March 16, 2010

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Editorial Reviews


A sharply critical, exhaustively researched, and absolutely invaluable analysis, Not In My Neighborhood is the most important kind of history book-the history that must be studied so that its mistakes are not repeated (and so that solutions to difficult problems can be worked upon for the future)! Highly recommended. (Midwest Book Review)

...Spellbinding....The scope of Pietila's research over the past 130 years is dazzling (Jason Policastro Baltimore Brew)

With its sensitive subject, this groundbreaking book is a monumental effort.....Pietila hooks readers with anecdotes and arresting details. (Diane Scharper Baltimore Sun)

From suburbanization in the late 19th century to white flight after WWII and, more recently, the targeting of minorities with predatory sub-prime lending, the picture of Baltimore, once again, isn't pretty. (Steven Levingston Review Of Higher Education)

Not In My Neighborhood: How Bigotry Shaped A Great American City offers a powerful survey of a Baltimore issue that shaped a city's psyche when discrimination policies toward blacks and Jews shaped a world....Eye-opening and recommended for any college-level social issues collection. (Midwest Book Review, May 2010)

Antero Pietila’s sweeping and detailed portrait of Baltimore’s 20th-century blockbusters is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand how and why the city came to look the way it does today. Morris Goldseker, the mighty Jack Pollack, “Little Willie” Adams, James Rouse, Joseph Meyerhoff, and even civil rights legends such as Juanita Mitchell all played their part―and profited from―Baltimore’s racially rigged housing business. Clearly written, fast-paced, and filled with telling anecdotes, Not in My Neighborhood brings these players to vivid life, even if it merely nods to some of the larger, more impersonal forces that gave them their opportunities. (Baltimore City Paper, December 2010)

Former Baltimore Sun reporter Pietila, who covered Baltimore neighborhoods and politics for 35 years, has produced an engrossing chronicle that emphasizes the links between racism, real estate practices, and urban politics. Indeed, the author argues they have been inseparable in Baltimore―and the nation. Pietila suggests that federal housing programs (1930s-60s) transformed the eugenics movement into national policy, and he significantly places realtors and developers at the very center of Baltimore politics. Most of the narrative focuses on the period 1910-68, although the author traces racial and real estate patterns back to the 1880s. The third section covers the 1960s and early 1970s....White versus black racism and black and white anti-Semitism are the main themes here, but Pietila's...account reveals class and religion added to already complex tensions. For instance, some Jewish developers would not rent or sell to Jewish families. Newspapers and personal interviews provide some colorful details. Secondary scholarship connects the Baltimore example to the national struggle over access to decent housing, driven by optimism, fear, and sometimes violence. Summing Up: Recommended. (CHOICE)

Not in My Neighborhood offers a lively, informative portrayal of how real estated practices throughout the twentieth century contributed to the segregated cities we see today. In a brief epilogue, the author voices optimism that increasing demographic diversity in the United States will lead to a more integrated future. (Journal Of Planning Education And Research 2011-01-01)

About the Author

Antero Pietila spent thirty-five years as a reporter with the Baltimore Sun, most of it covering the city's neighborhoods, politics, and government. A native of Finland, he became a student of racial change during his first visit to the United States in 1964. He lives in Baltimore.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Ivan R. Dee; 1 edition (March 16, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1566638437
  • ISBN-13: 978-1566638432
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.1 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #76,659 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author
"You never arrive"
See my lecture at Johns Hopkins
I first saw America's shores in May 1964 from the deck of the M/S Finntrader. I was a twenty-year-old aspiring journalist from Finland wanting so badly to spend that summer in the United States -- the summer of Lyndon B. Johnson's re-election campaign, civil rights strife and of the New York World's Fair - that I worked my ways across on a freighter. I came from a country so homogeneous that eye and hair color marked the chief differences among its four and a half million people. No blacks lived in Finland in those days, and only fifteen hundred Jews.

New York's polyglot metropolis stunned me. While reporting one day in Harlem, I found myself naked and sweating in an old Finnish steam bath operated by an immigrant from Jamaica. It had been a popular gathering spot among residents of the Finnish community, which thrived in Harlem from the 1910s until the 1950s. Few traces of that population of several thousands survived. Rival socialist halls, including one with an indoor swimming pool and a bowling alley, were long gone, as were Finnish churches.

One vestige still remaining was a hat shop on 125th Street belonging to an elderly Finnish woman, who had stayed after other whites ran. Another relic was the steam bath, with its black owner, a professional masseur, at Madison Avenue and 122nd Street.

Harlem exemplifies succession, which is the sociologists' term for ethnic, racial and economic neighborhood transition. In the space of four decades between the 1870s and 1910s, that section of New York City went from a white upper-class community of American-born residents to one populated by recent Irish, Jewish, German, Italian and Scandinavian immigrants. Soon thereafter, as a result of white abandonment, Harlem became African American and Puerto Rican, as Gilbert Osofsky chronicled in his 1971 classic, Harlem: The Making of a Ghetto. Racial succession is not over, either. Starting in the late 1990s, Manhattan's overheated real estate market made Harlem's values so irresistible that whites began returning to live on some streets north of Central Park.

The phenomenon of changing neighborhoods fascinated me.

In 1969, after receiving my M.A. degree in journalism from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, I found an urban observatory in Baltimore, a declining but still-great city trying to recover from the 1968 riots that followed the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The city and many of its residents were in a defeatist funk. Racial tensions flared, white flight to the suburbs continued; smokestack industries kept shutting down. Yet even among the gloom and doom there was a sense of excitement among those who saw the potential. One of my first reporting assignments for The Sun involved covering a kite festival in Druid Hill Park, where I met M. J. and Georgene Brodie, Connie and Caswell Caplan, and Stuart and Paula Rome. Those couples made things happen; Jay was soon to become the city's housing commissioner, an important economic development official and eventually a neighbor.

I eye-witnessed civil rights protests, reported on two Ku Klux Klan cross burnings, covered school desegregation, anti-war actions, religion, community organizing, City Hall and Baltimore County, a separate jurisdiction that was overtaking the city. I even joined a rag-tag army of mercenaries that the Congress of Racial Equality was recruiting for a civil war in Angola. I never quite figured out what CORE's motive was in this effort that quickly flopped. My fellow recruits, though, had a clear game plan. Once in Africa, they confided, they would frag the officers and loot diamond mines.

Making this journalistic enterprise possible was The Sun, Baltimore's venerable newspaper of record, founded in 1837. Owned by establishment families, the company also published The Evening Sun, the paper of H. L. Mencken, and a Sunday edition. The Sun was a mighty peculiar institution. A mural in its lobby depicted a plantation scene at the flagship paper's founding, complete with manacled and shackled slaves. (It has since been covered with a false wall). Standing guard near two lobby elevators was a diminutive African American named Bernard E. Barney. He had operated The Sun's front elevators since 1925. Although automatic elevators were installed in 1950, Barney was still on duty when I arrived in 1969, making sure that the publisher got to his office without stops. Mostly, though, he just stood in the lobby, greeting visitors and employees as an institutional mascot of sorts. The newspapers' paternalistic owners made bets in his name at racetracks and elsewhere, and he died a wealthy man. Another fixture was a janitor named Johnson who came by the city room every afternoon, asking gentlemen reporters whether they needed a shoeshine.

The Sun in those days was even greyer typographically than The New York Times. There were occasional attempts at levity, though. Every New Year's Day, a box on the front page touted a hangover cure that consisted of various nasty-sounding ingredients. During heat waves, an eccentric former Marine, David Maulsby, was sent downtown to see whether he could fry eggs on asphalt sidewalks. He never could, but it made entertaining copy.

When I joined the paper, my distinction was not that came from Finland but that I was the only reporter in the city room who had not gone to a private college. The less prestigious Evening Sun had hired reporters without college degrees for some years - and even a few African Americans -- but in order to join the morning paper, one had to be a college graduate and white. When The Sun hired its first black reporter soon after my arrival, his byline read Abdulkadir N. Said. He was a native of Somalia, who came by the way of Ethiopia. Another reporter, white, answered to the unforgettable name of Garrett Bang. She wrote Japanese haiku and had attempted to climb the Mount Everest. One day she reported to work wearing jeans and was sent home to change because informal attire was tolerated only on Saturdays. She was a twenty-something descendant of the Garretts, a famed Baltimore railroad dynasty. Since the two families knew one another socially, she confronted the publisher, William F. Schmick Jr. Invited to his inner sanctuary, she told him how to run newspapers. "There she was in my office and all I could think was, 'Thank God she is not my daughter'," Schmick later recalled.

In 1980 the paper chose me to establish a bureau for The Sun in Johannesburg, South Africa. I timed my arrival for Dingaan's Day on December 16, a public holiday marking the defeat of Zulus by the Boers in the 1838 Battle of Blood River. My first report, printed on the front page, described how the ruling white supremacists felt that they had their covenant with God renewed for another year, when a ray of light from a slit in the ceiling fell at noon on a sacred monument declaring Ons vir Jou, Suid Afrika ("We are for thee, South Africa").

In apartheid South Africa, which existed before Nelson Mandela came to power in 1994, only the white minority had full political and economic rights. Demolitions of "black spots" continued as non-whites were systematically evicted from their homes so that white areas could be expanded. I was a frequent visitor to Soweto, the sprawling black township near Johannesburg. Like all whites, I needed a permit each time. One day I again approached a Mr. Phillips, a dedicated public servant in the West Rand Administration Board who made a career out of issuing such permits. I explained that Joe Lelyveld of The New York Times and I intended to do some pub crawling in Soweto's illegal shabeens and needed overnight permits. The moment was delicious: Here was Mr. Phillips issuing legal permits so that we could do illegal things. I must admit that there was some bribery involved. Mr. Phillips was a dirty old man. On my frequent travels outside South Africa I bought him copies of Playboy, a magazine that was banned in South Africa, as were countless other publications. Arriving from Mauritius one day, I was stopped at customs. "Anything to declare? Playboy?" the official asked. He was wearing the tribal summer uniform of white Afrikaner officials from bureaucrats to the security police - a short-sleeved polyester shirt and Bermuda shorts, with a comb stuck into one knee-high white sock. "Of course not," I answered. When he opened my suitcase, the first thing he saw was a copy of Playboy. He issued me a green-colored certificate that could be redeemed on my departure from South Africa. "Detained," it declared, "one (1) copy of Playboy."

Since South Africa was a pariah nation in much of black Africa, I used two Finnish passports. One contained South African immigration and customs stamps, the other did not. This puzzled one official at the Johannesburg airport. He went through my passport, stared at me, leafed through the passport again, and shook his head. "Mynheer," he remarked, "you are a most interesting man. You always leave but you never arrive."

I may use that one on my gravestone yet.

South Africa was full of bizarre stories. The most profound I discovered in Kliptown, near Soweto, which was the official dumping ground for people whom the authorities found impossible to classify racially. None would have qualified as white, but the government was petrified that it might mistakenly give a black the limited property and legal rights that "coloreds" and Asians enjoyed but blacks did not. Better avoid mistakes. As a result, hundreds of Kliptown residents had no race at all. Without a race classification, they could not go to school, work or marry. They were known as "Twilight people."

In the surreal world of Kliptown, one denizen was a black woman who had married a colored man, an act that violated the immorality laws that banned intercourse among the country's four racial groups. When they divorced, a domestic court judge gave her the real estate, except that in South Africa blacks could not own real estate. Another resident was a white woman who had married a black policeman. What was she thinking? The government prosecuted her. She was ready. Having been reared among Africans on a white farm, she came to court wearing a Zulu tribal outfit and carrying a baby in a bundle on her back, as was the custom among rural Africans. She spoke only Zulu and claimed to understand no Afrikaans or English. For the case to proceed, the government would have had to prove that she was white. Embarrassed, the government dropped the charges, took away her constitutional rights and banished her to Kliptown.

From South Africa I was transferred to the Soviet Union. I fell in love with Mikhail Gorbachev's daughter, Oksana, an effervescent redhead whom I could only covet from a safe distance at Red Square parades. I also got to know black Russians. Small black communities had existed since the tsarist times, chiefly in Moscow and in the Black Sea region. Citizens of the Soviet Union, theirs was a difficult life because their skin color identified them as permanent aliens in a country that abhorred foreign influences. They, too, were twilight people. Among them was James Patterson, who at the age of three starred in the 1936 film classic, Tsirk (Circus). He was a poet, who celebrated Russia's glories in the best Stalinist traditions. He eventually relocated to Washington, D.C., a difficult proposition for an old man who knew little about the outside world and did not speak much English.

I saw evidence of ethnic succession in such old Moscow neighborhoods as Chinatown and the German Quarter, even though their original settlers had long since been eliminated. The Baltic republics of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia provided more evidence. Overrun by Stalin in the 1940s, they had been overwhelmed by non-native nationalities. Tensions were high. With Bill Eaton of The Los Angeles Times I saw how an ethnic Estonian doorman refused to admit a well-dressed Russian couple to a restaurant in Tallinn's Old Town. It was their wedding anniversary, the woman sobbed, holding a bouquet of roses. The doorman was unmoved. "There was no reservation; there are no empty tables," he advised. We were next in line and expressed disappointment that we could not dine there, either. "You must be joking," the doorman chuckled, welcoming us to the mostly empty restaurant.

I eventually returned from overseas. After more than a decade as a member of the The Sun's editorial board, I became frustrated. That's when my wife, Barbara, said: "Write a book." The active research and writing phase took seven years. When I began, Mark Reutter, a native Baltimorean and a former Sun colleague, made a prediction: "You will soon find out that Baltimore is a small town of closely kept secrets."
Not in My Neighborhood is about those secrets.


Aside from my Johns Hopkins lecture much other video material may be googled. Of particular interest may be a three-part interview with The Real New Network.


"Not in My Neighborhood" is available for the Kindle and Nook. The book was supposed to come out in paperback in August, 2011, but was delayed until that December. As sales continued strong, the publisher decided to delay the paperback edition further -- until August. 2012. That target date was later canceled in favor of more hardcover printings. The book is available in more 300 libraries around the world, from America to New Zealand. Amazon ships worldwide.


The success of "Not in My Neighborhood" has been particularly gratifying because it is almost exclusively based on word of mouth. People read it and recommend it to friends. A surprising number of book clubs are reading and discussing it. The book has received hardly any attention by traditional information outlets outside of Baltimore. Nor has any national publication reviewed it. However, a respected international weekly, TLS, has. The
Nov. 26, 2011, issue of the London Times literary supplement assessed the book. "The book's real strength lies in its exposure of the deliberate urban planning that provided the ghettoes," the review said. "Pietila's lively study is well researched, and brought to life by a host of mavericks, crooks and Baltimore characters and compelling social details." The entirety is on TLS's site.


Here is a prize-winning 2013 paper coauthored with Dr. Stacy Spaulding of Towson University on the Afro-American's World War II correspondents.

Copyright © 2009 Antero Pietila

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Tally on March 7, 2013
Format: Hardcover
As a Baltimore resident with a keen interest in the city's history I bought the book to see what the author had to say about an ugly period in the city's history. The transformation from a predominately white to a predominately black city occurred during several decades between 1950 and 1980 and had profound effects on the city's character and well-being.

Pietila writes a good account of why Baltimore flipped from being a white city to a black city and how this change was fueled by the ugly specter of racism and blockbusting - brutal tactics employed by often ethically challenged realtors to scare white homeowners in selling out at rock bottom prices and flipping the houses to black buyers at much higher prices.

I enjoyed the history of the racial changes in the various neighborhoods, starting back in 1910 when the first white homeowner sold to a black buyer in an area outside the accepted black ghettos. I won't get into more details about the content of the book as that's been written by other reviewers but I will add a few of my observations that may or may not be relevant, depending on what you are looking for out of the book.

1. Pietila refers to several of the early country estates surrounding the city as "plantations," such as Homewood "plantation." These were never plantations in the sense of large Southern agricultural based, intensively farmed, plantations, but simply country pleasure estates owned by the city elite who may have owned black servants. Perhaps this is nitpicking but the implication when using the word "plantation" is quite strong and should be carefully used.

2. I would have enjoyed more direct interviews with residents of the neighborhoods that flipped from white to black, from the white sellers to black buyers.
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30 of 35 people found the following review helpful By K. Apperson on March 31, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Antero Pietila has written one of the best history books on the city of Baltimore. His attention to detail on incidents, people and the struggles of the past that have shaped the current city is remarkable. Once I picked the book up, I could not put it down. He covers many of the famous neighborhoods of Baltimore and describes how segregation shaped the city. He explains the migration from white to jewish to black in many neighborhoods and how exploitation created the slums in Baltimore. I highly recommend the book to any one who is interested in our local and national history.
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Richard A. Morris on July 14, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
What a fine book--Not In My Neighborhood: How Bigotry Shaped A Great American City by Antero Pietila. I intended to do a quick read but ended up doing a SLOW one--highlighting the book extensively and identifying in a Baltimore mapbook every street location and neighborhood Pietila discusses. I found it to be a highly informative case study, one that has been replicated in cities across America, about how whites, aided by politicians, bankers, realtors, zoning officials, the FHA, churches, and other groups, fought the encroachment of African-Americans into their neighborhoods, and the methods blockbusters used to drive whites out and provide housing and financing for blacks, all the while filling their own coffers. But Not In My Neighborhood is not a textbook. Pietila not only tracks the movement of minorities through urban neighborhoods over many generations, he details the histories of the people involved and tells the most interesting stories about them. After all, Pietila spent thirty-five years with the Baltimore Sun, covering the city's neighborhoods, politics, and government, so he knows where the bones are buried, and he tells all. This book is as much fun as fiction.
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Midwest Book Review on April 15, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Not In My Neighborhood: How Bigotry Shaped a Great American City is a revealing expose about how bigotry and residential segregation impacted Baltimore's development - as well as that of America at large, using Baltimore as a mirror to reflect national trends. From how public discrimination shifted to focus especially upon African-Americans and Jews in the late nineteenth century onward, to the racially biased housing policies enacted by the Federal Housing Administration up to the 1960s, to the consequences of white flight after World War II, and much more, Not In My Neighborhood examines the overall paradigm of human behavior and its deleterious consequences resounding up to the present day and beyond. A sharply critical, exhaustively researched, and absolutely invaluable analysis, Not In My Neighborhood is the most important kind of history book - the history that must be studied so that its mistakes are not repeated (and that so solutions to difficult problems can be worked upon for the future)! Highly recommended.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Bawlmer Sue on July 3, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I enjoyed the book very much but don't know how enlightening it would be for someone not from the local area. Certainly many of the instances of prejudice and segregation cited would be understandable almost anywhere, but the local references were particularly relatable. I've shared it with my neighbor, a retired real estate salesperson, and plan to send it on or recommend it to any number of family and friends. I sort ot wished there had been space for a few more maps of specific neighborhoods.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Jessieoppi on October 28, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I just finished Not in My Neighborhood, and while I was impressed with the depth of research and fact checking that went into this book, I found Pietila's writing to be of such poor quality that the book was at times hard to follow. Long meandering paragraphs lacked topic sentences, transitions or clear direction. New historical figures were introduced haphazardly without sufficient introduction as to why or how they related to events in the book. For example a chapter would start with a long history of Spiro Agnew and then a new paragraph would start with something like "Dale Anderson grew up in Southern Illinois." Unless you were already familiar with Dale Anderson and his role as a Baltimore County councilman you were at a loss as to why Pietila had suddenly switched from writing about Agnew to someone growing up in Illinois. It wasn't until the end of the chapter that Pietila compared and contrasted the two men's roles in Baltimore County that the introduction of Anderson made any sense. At the risk of sounding like a nit-picky crazy person, some sentences were so poorly written that I actual read them several times trying to ascertain their meaning. Here is a particularly egregious example, "But the County Council rejected his choice to implement open government, a chief aid to Jim Wright, the powerful Democratic speaker of the House of Representatives in Washington." I'm not even sure that is a proper sentence.
Anyways, bottom line - This is a great book in terms of detailing how racism shaped the Baltimore housing market, but it is a chore to read.
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